Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Despite not being terribly keen on Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books. It was first published in 1813, following Sense and Sensibility (1811), and is one of the most popular novels in the English language. Most people can quote that opening sentence, and it seems almost everyone has affection for it, and I certainly do - it was one of the only pleasant things during February. It even made me laugh, which was no mean feat.
Virginia Woolf wrote of Jane Austen, "she never trespassed beyond her boundaries", and yet, "Whatever she writes is finished and turned and set in its relation, not to the parsonage, but to the universe" (The Common Reader First Series). There are indeed elements of realism in her works, perhaps owing to the fact that she did not "trespass beyond her boundaries": for example in the introduction to my Wordsworth edition, it is said that "she never reports a conversation between men when there is no women present" (Virginia Woolf concluded her essay on Jane Austen arguing that, had she have written another six novels, "She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust" - perhaps she already was). Austen wrote parodies, comedies (some place her in the category of "comedy of manners), and romances, but there's certainly more to them, I don't think any of her novels fit neatly into one niche. Pride and Prejudice has all of these elements: the realism, the satire, the attention to manners, etiquette, and society, all within a fairy tale romance. Lizzie Bennet is one of my favourite characters; the second of the Bennet sisters, intelligent, sociable, and lively, she can see through social class and is aware of the hypocrisies within it. She, and too Mr. Darcy (I feel that Pride and Prejudice is so well known and loved I needn't even give a plot and character overview) overcome their personal flaws or failings, and through Lizzie's gradual understanding of herself (or her "self", I should write) she finds happiness. Pride and Prejudice is about this search, and overcoming her prejudice (and pride, I dare say, though that is the realm of Mr. Darcy).